Filipino Nationalism Essay
Nationalism has had a long history in our country. In our struggle for freedom, there have been periods when strong nationalist feelings fired our people to action and other periods when nationalism seemed to be forgotten. Not only did nationalism as a sentiment have its peaks and valleys, nationalism as a political concept has been espoused at one time or another by different sectors of society which projected particular nationalist goals as their own interests and historical circumstances demanded.
The ilustrados who led the Propaganda Movement were expressing the nationalist goals of the Filipino elite when they demanded reforms which would give them participation in political rule and a greater share in economic benefits. The people, led by Bonifacio, went further than the ilustrados. They demonstrated the highest nationalist fervor when they spontaneously heeded the call of the Katipunan and fought an anti-colonial revolution against Spain. They had practically won their freedom when they were confronted by a new colonizer.
Nationalism again sustained the people in their fierce resistance to American rule. Many from among the masses fought for a decade more, even as most of the ilustrado leaders changed sides and collaborated with the enemy. Their goal, their ideal was independence. They equated independence with a better life, and rightly so, although they had no clear idea of the economic dimensions of the independent society they aspired for beyond the immediate demand for land to the tillers.
Nationalism at that time was mass nationalism. It was clearly anti-colonial; its dominant goal was political independence.
American colonial policy suppressed Philippine nationalism by military campaigns against resistance groups – the members of which is branded as brigands and outlaws –and by the Sedition Law (1901) which imposed the death penalty or a long prison term on anyone who advocated independence from the United States even by peaceful means. The Flag Law (1907) prohibited the display of the Philippine flag, that symbol of Filipino nationalism, from 1907 to 1919.
As for Andres Bonifacio, the leader of the anti-colonial struggle, it was only in 1921, when Senator Lope K. Santos authored a law making his birthday a national holiday, that he was recognized as a national hero. On the other hand, with Governor Taft’s approval, Rizal has been proclaimed a national hero as early as 1901.
The American administration gave every assistance to this recognition because, in the words of Governor-General W. Cameron Forbes, “Rizal never advocated independence, nor did he advocate armed resistance to the government. He urged reform from within by publicity, by public education, and appeal to the public conscience.” Rizal became the symbol of “safe” patriotism. (my quotation marks – Bert)
American public policy further undermined Filipino nationalism through the educational system which imposed the English language as a medium of instruction, projected American society and culture as models to be emulated, omitted all mention of Filipino resistance to American conquest and the cruel suppression of that resistance, inculcated the idea that Filipinos must undergo tutelage in self-government to deserve independence, and presented the United States as our generous benefactor.
Although the beneficiaries of American education began to imbibe American values and culture and to like American consumer goods, the majority of Filipinos remained faithful to the ideal of independence. Politicians therefore had to declare in campaign speeches that they would work for “immediate, complete and absolute independence”, in order to get the people’s votes. But this independence was now to be requested from the colonizer who had promised to grant it in due time.
Actually, the major political leaders, representing as they did the landlord class which grew rich on the export-crop economy dependent on the US market, had become afraid of the economic difficulties independence would bring. Hence, there were instances when leaders of the independence Missions themselves privately requested American officials to postpone the grant of independence preferring instead greater autonomy, that is, more political power from themselves.
Manuel L. Quezon himself had worked secretly against the Jones Bill. Because they had acquiesced to the growth of a dependent economy, these leaders could not very well explain the economic realities to the people nor could they espouse economic independence since they were the beneficiaries of economic dependence. Independence therefore remained a political goal.
Nationalism as anti-colonialism was raised to new heights of necessity by the brutal Japanese occupation. Ironically enough, this hatred for one colonizer only increased the longing for the return of the other colonizer and our blind faith in his promises.
While an aroused nationalism and a healthy suspicion made most Filipinos see the sham independence by Japan and correctly appraise Japan’s exploitative designs on our economy and natural resources, we failed to recognize very similar policies and objectives when these came from our American friends.
When our “liberators” demanded that we accord American citizens the same rights as Filipinos, when they asked for military and naval bases on our soil, not enough Filipinos objected. We did not see these as derogations of the sovereignty we had just regained. Our nationalist aspirations were satisfied with flag independence. The economic dimensions of nationalism were not yet clearly within the perspective of the majority.
Soon, however, economic problems arising from the re-imposition of free trade and the renewed domination of our economy by foreign, mostly American, corporations would make more Filipinos realize that the task of nationalism did not end with the attainment of political independence.
In fact, American interventions in our internal affairs and American influence on our foreign policy made thinking Filipinos doubt that we were even politically independent. The subservience of the Philippine government to American dictates was most obvious under our most pro-American, and indeed, American-made president, Ramon Magsaysay.
Almost single-handedly, Senator Claro M. Recto espoused the nationalist causes against Magsaysay’s pro-Americanism. He said that US-bases made a mockery of our independence and would expose us to nuclear annihilation; he advocated an independent foreign policy. Above all, he projected the economic aspect of nationalism, opposed the granting of special incentives to attract foreign investments and instead advocated nationalist industrialization. On the last point, he had the concurrence of President Carlos P. Garcia and of Filipino businessmen who supported Garcia’s “Filipino First” policy.
Although the nationalism of these Filipino entrepreneurs was based on their narrow economic interests (they wanted the government to protect them against foreign competition and to give them preference in dollar allocations), Filipino First as a nationalist slogan inspired other sectors to voice out nationalist demands in their particular fields. Educators, for example, asked for freedom to design a pattern of education more responsive to Filipino needs.
Recto has raised the banner of economic nationalism, and clearly showed that the greatest obstacle to its realization is American imperialism, which acting in behalf of corporate giants, pressures weaker states to open their economies to penetration and control. His definition of nationalism is still valid today: “…a banner of freedom proclaiming the national interests of the people, to be protected and safeguarded by themselves so that the fruits of their efforts and the wealth derived from their God-given resources shall accrue to them and thus enable all of our people to rise above poverty and march on to prosperity, contentment and dignity.” From this definition, we can deduce the major characteristics of Filipino nationalism for our time.
Nationalism is defensive, protective. Nationalists believe that the resources of our country should be for the benefit of our people today and in the future. Since our economy is increasingly being dominated by foreign corporations with the active intervention in their behalf of their governments, nationalism is necessarily anti-imperialist. This means primarily, American and Japanese imperialism though it includes the operation of other advanced countries as well.
However, anti-imperialism is not racism. Nationalists are not anti-American or anti-Japanese; they are only against those policies of governments that harm the interests of the Filipino people, policies which these governments pressure our government to adopt.
For example, nationalists criticize the many incentives and privileges given to foreign corporations which take over areas of the economy that could well be handled by Filipino businessmen if our government gave them preference and protection. Whereas Filipino businessmen would have no reason to remit their profits abroad, foreign corporations are guaranteed by our government the privilege of remitting their entire profits in dollars. Thus, a large part of the dollar earnings of our exports only goes to finance these profit remittances.
A second example: nationalists criticize export orientation which satisfy the needs of others rather than those of our own people. We export our best fish and shrimps to Japan and import their canned mackerel. Our best fruits are for export. Meanwhile, 77% of Filipino children between the ages of one and four are suffering from malnutrition.
The nationalist goal is the welfare of the Filipino masses; therefore the second major quality of nationalism is its mass character. Our people themselves must protect and advance their own interests. Nationalism should no longer serve the interest of one or another sector as in the past. Mass nationalism is therefore democratic; it believes in the greatest possible participation of the people in the determination of policy, particularly in the re-orientation of our development program. Corollary goals of mass-based nationalism are a more equitable distribution of economic resources and a
just and humane society.
Nationalism does not advocate economic, political, scientific or cultural isolation. It is not anti-development; it does not long to return to an idealized past. Nationalism believes that our people deserve all the ease and comfort, good health, and access to the best products of man’s intellect and artistic spirit that the highest achievements of modern science and art can provide. For this reason, nationalism believes in economic, political, scientific and cultural exchanges with other countries but it will be careful and selective, always placing priority on the needs and welfare of the Filipino people.
As a national ideology, nationalism must permeate every aspect of Philippine life. We have been witnessing in past years heightened interest in ethnic culture as well as local music and art. These are manifestations of cultural nationalism. However, if this new sense of cultural identity is not integrated with economic and political nationalism and instead is used to divert our attention from growing foreign control of our economy, then this cultural development is a disservice to our people.
Nationalism demands both economic and political independence. It resists and condemns foreign intervention in our internal affairs as well as in the conduct of our foreign policy. The US bases are an unwarranted derogation of our sovereignty and should be dismantles. In the field of education, the use of our national language vas the medium of instruction is a primary nationalist demand. Instruction is always more effective in the national language. This should not be taken as hostility to English or any other foreign language. They should be learned as a foreign language because that is what they are.
It is a measure of our colonial mentality that we are more interested in understanding and being understood by foreigners than we are in developing an efficient medium for internal communication. The multiplicity of Philippine language is often advanced as an argument by those who have favor for English. Let us not forget that these are sister languages and therefore mastery of Pilipino is infinitely easier for a Visayan or a Pampango than mastery of English, if only there were no psychological roadblocks arising from colonial conditioning. We must not equate good education with proficiency in English.
Education can be a powerful weapon in propagating nationalism. A nationalist education would place great importance on the teaching of Philippine history from the point of view of the Filipino people. This will develop an anti-colonial, anti-imperialist orientation based on our historical experience as a people. Such a history should clarify how, why, and for whose benefit our people have been exploited and oppressed.
A nationalist education would also emphasize a critical study of the Philippine economy so that as a people we will learn to be wary of economic programs proposed by foreign governments and institutions. Moreover, we should know how the world capitalist system operates so we will understand in what way economic development will affect our people. In history as in economics, we must use only one yardstick. We must judge past events and present developments in terms of whether or not they served or will serve the best interests of the people.
The Filipino people have the right to decide what kind of society they want, what is best for them. They should strive to have the fullest political and economic independence to chart their own future. This is the essence of nationalism.
Source: Issues Without Tears, A Layman’s Manual of Current Issues, Volume II (1984), Teacher Assistance Program (TAP) – Leticia R. Constantino, Director credits to the owner